Since its construction in 2000, Sacred Heart Church has sat at the industrial crossroads of Yining, a modest-sized city in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Northwest China, also known as Xinjiang. Its colourful onion domes, array of icons and white-painted facade are more reminiscent of an eccentric orthodox chapel in Greece or Russia than an overwhelmingly Muslim area of Central Asia under the jurisdiction of a militantly secular state. Or at least, they were.
In 2018 local authorities required the church to remove its crosses, along with four bas-reliefs that adorned the exterior, the two statues of St. Peter and St. Paul on the sides of the building, and its twin domes and bell towers. Recent reports from Asia News now claim that the church will be forcibly demolished to clear the site for “commercial purposes”. For Chinese Christians, especially Uyghur ones, this story is more familiar than it is shocking.